This is an anonymous guest post series about the process of applying for elementary schools in New York City.
It’s no secret that the NYC Kindergarten admission process is extremely complicated and competitive. There are dedicated newspaper and magazine articles, blogs, and even documentaries! (If you want to find out more about what the process is like, I recommend watching “Getting in….Kindergarten” by Pamela French. It’s currently available in several parts on YouTube.) The Kindergarten admissions process in Manhattan is so fierce that parents stress over getting their kids into Nursery school/Pre-K programs that are considered to be “feeder” schools into the best Kindergartens. There is even a Pre-K program that requires three-year-old children to be observed in a group play session as part of the admissions criteria!
Part of the problem with NYC Kindergarten process is that there are so many choices of great schools, but not enough seats in these top rated programs. To make this process more equitable, many programs require standardized tests as part of their admissions criteria. Yes, standardized tests at the age of 4! If you’ve read the book Nurture Shock (which specifically mentions the NYC admissions process), testing intelligence at the age of 4 is premature. And yet, there are so many tutors, test-prep centers, and workbooks targeted towards this market, because parents want to ensure that their child has the best chance of getting into a top rated program.
I have a four year old boy, and this process for me, started about a year ago. I had heard about the competitive process, the testing, the parent essays, the zoning issues, and the extremely high costs of private schools. The only thing I knew was that my zoned general education elementary school was not-so-great, so I needed other options.
When I describe the general Kindergarten admissions process to other people (especially to those who do not live in NYC), they look at me like I’m crazy. Usually the first and most common question I hear is “Why can’t you send him to your neighborhood school?” I honestly wish that my “zoned school” was an option for us. Before I even decided to enter into this process, I researched my zoned school and found that it did not have a great reputation. Logically, I know that going to a mediocre general ed program at my zoned school will not harm my child in the long run or damage his future job prospects. But since I do have a choice, why not take advantage of the options that are available to me?
So I bought a few books:
- Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools and Selective Public Schools, 6th Edition by Victoria Goldman
- New York City’s Best Public Elementary Schools: A Parents’ Guide by Clara Hemphill
And I found a few websites:
Through this research, I was finally able to understand the process for both public and private schools. Here’s the quick and dirty breakdown of your options.
Public Schools run by NYC Department of Education
- Zoned or Neighborhood Schools
- Gifted and Talented (G&T) Programs (both District-Wide and City-Wide)
- Unzoned or Specialized Schools
Public Schools not run by NYC Department of Education
- Hunter College Elementary School
- Charter Schools
- Non-religious Private Schools
- Parochial or Religious-affiliated Schools
Of all of the options, how do you decide what is right for you and your family and your child?
There are several factors to consider here. Do you want to have your child commute to kindergarten? Do you have siblings that you need to take into consideration? Do you really want to have your four year old subjected to several different aptitude tests and play dates interviews? Can you afford private school tuition or at least qualify for financial aid? Do you want a progressive atmosphere or a more traditional one? Do you have any religious preferences if considering a religious school?
Once you have an idea of what you want (or at least what you don’t want), you can start narrowing down your choices. For example, I am not religious and do not want my child to attend a religious school. Therefore, I could cross that option off of my list. I also am not a huge fan of charter schools because there is such a huge range of success and failure among the new schools. Some are excellent and have proven results. Others have not been around long enough to prove their method and are often shut down after their contract period is over.
Other than religious private schools and charter schools, our experience will run across the remaining options available to us. It is important to keep the different options separate because each option has a slightly different admissions criteria, process, and timelines. I am particularly Excel crazy, so I have a spreadsheet of my options, pros/cons, location, test scores, and admissions criteria for each school that I liked for my child. Then I printed out the school reviews, application requirements, any information on after-school care, food and transportation directly from the school web sites. I then made a binder (of course) and constantly add to it as I gather more information.
Hmmm…now that I think about it, I may have gone a little overboard. Or I may be a typical NYC parent. Who knows? I am curious to know -how did you decide where to send your little one to school? And how different are the school processes in other cities?
Getting into a New York Elementary School part 1 of 31. Getting Into a New York Elementary School by Education
2. Testing for NYC Elementary Schools: Gifted & Talented and Private by Education
3. Getting into Your Zoned Elementary School in NYC and the G&T Testing Process by Education